Andragogy refers to the general theory of adult learning. The theory defines the various methods used to teach adults. These methods basis are several postulations made by Malcolm Knowles about andragogy. The methods of learning and the theory on which they are based are known worldwide, but the use of the term andragogy is primarily limited to Europe. Malcolm Knowles outlined several assumptions about adult education that differentiated the two general theories of learning (Smith, 2002).
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According to the first assumption of the Malcolm Knowles theory, as a child, a human being is largely dependent on the parent for material support. In addition, the parent acts as the guide to the child in its early years of development. In the initial stages of development, most of the child development is directly attached to the parent, and it cannot do without provision by the parent. At this stage, the child has little knowledge of the complexity of life.
The child is interested in the immediate surrounding and the need for survival. Due to the dependency on the parent, the child learns from the parent in every aspect.
The child can concentrate on what is taught even for a long time. As the child grows, it becomes detached from the parent and assumes a leading role in affairs of its life. when the child become an adult person, the urge to be one’s own guide in life sets in, and one becomes completely detached from the parent. The adult person depends more on his own guidance for all decisions (Smith, 2002). Moreover, the adult person assumes that he provides the best decisions for progress in his life.
The second and subsequent theories are developed from the first assumption of the Malcolm Knowles theory. This theory has several implications on the effective methods that are used for teaching a particular individual, and the ability to learn using conventional methods used for a child’s learning.
New methods of teaching and learning are necessary for the adult to learn effectively. During the process of growth, a person acquires experience that affects learning. This experience is a part of the knowledge that the individual possesses, and it controls the rate and willingness to learn.
The second assumption is that when learning as an adult, a person will tend to have well defined priorities such that he or she chooses the areas of interest for learning. Furthermore, the person may subconsciously discriminate some areas of knowledge and favour those areas that are directly relevant to the person’s social and economic development. The adult human being is more interested in the knowledge to his or her life.
The fourth observation by Knowles is that as a person develops, time becomes a major factor in the learning process. The adult learner will prefer to acquire knowledge and apply it immediately in a practical sense. On the other hand, Pedagogy involves learning with a probabilistic speculation that an application will arise in future.
This theory relates to a child’s learning, where a child spends its early stages of life learning intensively and continuously without a practical application. In addition, adult knowledge has to be applied immediately if it is to be considered of any use to the adult person. While a child learns without the need to apply practically the knowledge to solve any problem in life, an adult will learn with the sole purpose of solving a certain problem.
As a child undergoes the various development stages, the motivation to learn comes from the parent and other adults in the immediate social environment. Moreover, the motivation may originate from other learners of the same age group who have a similar drive of motivation.
In this essence, the child does not have any motivation emanating from within. In adult learning, the quest for knowledge is internally driven. This is the fifth assumption of the Malcolm Knowles theory of learning. The internal drive is due to personal beliefs, pressure due a problem that needs a solution, or mere interest in learning (Smith, 2002).
The theory developed by Knowles has its basis on the nature and behaviour of adult humans. Moreover, his assumptions have an aspect of human psychology in it.
All his assumptions avoid touching on the circumstances of an adult that lead to the observed characteristics. Knowles does not encourage the modification of human tendencies to enhance learning, but he advocates for the development of various methods of learning that would assist the learner to acquire knowledge.
From one perspective, the theories of Knowles are just assumptions made by an educationist when imparting knowledge to an adult. This helps the educationist to determine the sets of knowledge most suitable for a particular adult. On the other hand, the educationist can use the theory as a model to teach adult students (Briton, 1996).
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An example of the application of andragogy in modern times is in technology. When training an expert in this field, a practical simulation of the knowledge should accompany the theoretical basis of the training. This develops interest in the individual undertaking training. The interest results form an individual’s urge to achieve in the particular field (Fidishun, 2000).
Knowles does not explore the boundary that outlines the description of an adult and the difference of a child from an adult. Knowles discusses that a person becomes an adult when he or she starts thinking without factoring the will of others in the conclusions of the thoughts. This simply means independent thinking.
Knowles theory is limited to the assumptions that he made regarding the education of an adult. The theory does not explore the difference between the experience of an adult and that of a child. Knowles directs his theory to establishing a fact that the methods used to educate an adult are completely different from those used for a child.
These methods cannot be interchanged. Furthermore, the cause of this dogma is the assumptions made by the andragogy theory. The Knowles theory presents new definitions of adulthood and childhood. The new definitions depict the child as an individual dependent on adults, and who needs subjection to some conditioning in order to learn. According to Knowles, an adult is an individual able to control what he or she learns, and whose learning has a purpose.
The theories of Malcolm Knowles have faced criticism over time because of their lack of distinctiveness. Malcolm Knowles does not evaluate the experiences and circumstances of a child, which are also enough for the immature child’s brain. Andragogy’s assumptions seem to depict a child as an individual without any experiences or psychological pressure. The Malcolm Knowles theories also seem to purport that adults cannot undergo a formal structured education since they think independently.
Critics argue that a systematic and predetermined procedure is best for anyone in the learning process. In addition, the formal kind of education offers intensive learning and training that is otherwise difficult to achieve in the informal sector.
Although the andragogy theory has faced criticism from various quarters, it succeeds in establishing a fact that once a human being has transitioned from childhood to adulthood in a process that is evident, he or she is not subject to similar learning techniques as a child. Malcolm also fails to define a comprehensive theory that separates assumptions from valid theory (Wilson, 2003).
The andragogy theory is important in that it forms a basis on which adult education can thrive. In addition, the theory enhances effectiveness of education in realising development. If the andragogy theory is considered in formulation of an education structure for adults, the waste of resources could be minimised. Moreover, the theory minimises the strain on an adult when he or she embarks on a learning mission since concentration on an area of interest is possible (Wilson, 2003).
On the other hand, the theory disqualifies adults from formal education, and this could have a negative impact on knowledge enhancement during adulthood. Furthermore, Knowles did not outline the nature of childhood and adulthood experience. Explicitly explaining the differences between an adult’s thinking and that of a child could have cemented the theory of andragogy (Wilson, 2003).
One cannot totally refute the andragogy theory since it contains a substantial amount of facts. However, the theory can be subject to modification to fit the various needs in application. The modification and outlining of various definitions in the theory could make it more useful in the field of education, particularly adult education. There is the need to separate a solid theory from the assumptions. This will give validity to the general postulations of Malcolm Knowles.
Briton, D. (1996). The modern practice of adult education: a postmodern critique. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Fidishun, D. (2000). Integrating Adult Learning. Andragogy and Technology, 1(April), 1-3.
Smith, M. (2002, May 3). Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy. contents @ the informal education homepage. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/malcolm-knowles-informal-adult-education-self-direction-and-andragogy/
Wilson, C. A. (2003). No one is too old to learn: neuroandragogy: a theoretical perspective on adult brain functions and adult learning.. New York: iUniverse.